From the Archives – “Life in cooking”

I wrote this about ten years ago, while still single. It’s funny, reading it now, that I pondered children at the end. And now I have a bouncing Energizer Baby. 

  
I can’t exactly remember when I became interested in cooking. In one of her books, Stephanie Pearl-Mcphee says that she knit constantly around her daughters and one day they just picked up needles and gave it a try.

I think something like that must’ve happened while I was growing up. Cooking was a very important part of my family. Not to mention that in some cases, you were expected to cook, no choice about it. But more on that later.

There’s a very cute picture of me as a little girl sitting on the kitchen counter, in a cute little dress, stirring something in a bowl with a spoon. My guess….cookie dough. Or something yummy like that. I will be forever grateful for the fact that my mother got me involved in her daily cooking. I never had any fancy formal training for the kitchen. I just watched, practiced and learned.

One of the earliest memories of cooking I have comes from my Abuelita Tere, my paternal grandmother. Mom dropped me and big bro at her house so she could go work and we spent the morning being children, running around like crazy and all. I think I was around 7. At some point, Abuelita asked me to slice up some olives for her, as she started her afternoon cooking. She handed me a jar of olives and a sharp knife. No explanation whatsoever, just the need to have the olives sliced. I nicked myself so many times while slicing them that I lost count. Abuelita never took the knife away from me, just told me to “quit playing” and get the job done. Over the years, she would have other chores for me that involved me sticking my hands into near-boiling water, using sharp knives, etc. I’m sure that many people would consider that cruel nowadays. Personally, I loved it. Yeah, I might have complained, but man, those were good days.

She even taught me to bake bread. I can still picture her, measuring the ingredients – always by weight – the care with which she did everything. Her hands kneading the dough. To this day, I love the feel of my hands after I’m done kneading the dough. They remind me of her hands. The smell of bread rising. Of bread baking. That first bite into bread fresh out of the oven. I think anyone who was around her when she kneaded her dough can remember the sound. She also had a special wooden board she kneaded her dough on – made by my Abuelito -. That board is now cured with decades of oil. I love it.

As time went by, my mother started trusting me with more things around the kitchen. I went from mixing things in bowls, to decorating food, to preparing salads, to taking on the task of making the daily meal. As a teenage girl, it was a matter of infinite pride, being asked to make a meal to feed the whole family. I still love cooking with my mother. No matter how far away we are, or how many years have gone by. There’s nothing like being in the kitchen with my mother. Moving around, preparing ingredients, seasonings, the sounds and smells, the conversation, the bond between mother and daughter.

It is happening a lot that people don’t allow their children into the kitchen because “it’s dangerous”. I think this is sad.

Yes…..the kitchen can be dangerous. Heck, I once sliced the very tip of my left index finger off. It was left hanging and after the shock of it, I just flipped it back, waited until the bleeding stopped, iced it and bandaged it. I got a lime popsicle and sat in the kitchen, watching my mother cook. I was back in the kitchen the next day – would’ve been back the same day, but any pressure on my finger would re-open the wound).

ANYWAY…..yes. It can be dangerous. But dang it…….IT’S SO MUCH FUN. You’ll get your knicks, burns, etc. You’ll learn from your mistakes and keep at it. You’ll burn food, cook things that not even the family dog would eat, and learn from that as well. The art of cooking should not be lost. Not just because of how amazing it is to create something from scratch – probably the same reason I like knitting and crocheting -, but also for the pride of knowing you’ve created something to feed yourself and your loved ones. For the joy of knowing that what you’re putting into your body is nourishing and good.

It can also result in some very interesting moments when you’re teaching others to cook. I cook by intuition most of the time. I got my brother frustrated when he asked me how much salt to put in the picadillo and I just poured some in my hand and said “this much”.

I’ll never be a professional cook. I wouldn’t know the difference between haute cuisine ingredients even if they stared me in the eye and introduced themselves. But I like to think that I can cook well enough to feed my loved ones.

Someday, I’ll have children. And they’ll be more than welcome into the kitchen. The day my children leave home, they will receive a copy of the family recipes. By gosh, they’ll know how to feed themselves, even if all they have for a stove is a toaster oven or a microwave. 

An edible sideline

I WAS going to try and make a Fauxdori, take pictures and do a post on the experience.

But then I saw this post by the Hobonichi People. It’s almost as if they’d read the previous blog about me wanting to hold and test one of their books, but not wanting to pay the whole price without being sure.
So a half of a Hobonichi, for roughly half the price of a full one is on its way to me and since I limit how much I spend per pay period, the Fauxdori will have to wait until another time.

So instead, a food sideline. But it’s related, I promise. In a very odd roundabout way.

When we were stationed in Okinawa, everybody and their brother told us to taste sushi. Good grief, it got annoying.
We’re not that big on fish, and while I did enjoy the occasional vegetarian roll, the truth is, we fell in love with other aspects of Japanese cuisine (noodles and Yakiniku being our favorite). We also enjoyed the foods that came to Japan from other countries, married into the local flavors and spun their own varieties. Like Japanese curry. So see, this post is related to the planners. The Hobonichi is a Japanese planner/notebook and here I am talking about Japanese food, you see? Right? right? No?….

Anyway. Food! Okinawa is considered the Hawaii of Japan, so not only do they get a lot of tourists from the main island, but also from other Asian countries. Add to that the thousands of American military, missionaries and other people who call Okinawa their home. We were actually introduced to Indian curry by a Hindu-owned curry restaurant on island. It’s no surprise, that so many food combinations have originated on that small piece of land floating in the sea.

Legend has it (a.k.a Wikipedia), that a chef at a local eatery wanted to add dishes to attract the Americans at nearby Camp Hansen in the 50s. So he played with the types of food they ate and came up with his own take on a Tex-Mex favorite. It has since been embraced by the entire island, the main island of Japan, the locals, military, and many more worldwide. It is present in Japanese school lunches, festivals, and homes. I still make it often. Ask any American military who has been there about it and we’ll get a happy little smile.

I’m talking about Taco Rice. It is extremely simple, extremely easy and extremely enjoyable.

What did the chef do? He took the Tex-Mex crunchy taco, took the crunchy tortilla out and substituted it with rice. Really. That’s it at its most basic form. And, while I cannot stand the crunchy taco, taco rice gets high marks in my book.

So, how do you make this Okinawan favorite?

THE BITS AND PIECES

  • Cooked rice.
  • 1-2 lbs. ground beef.
  • Shredded lettuce.
  • Diced tomato.
  • Chopped onions.
  • Shredded cheese (I like crumbled Queso Fresco).
  • Salsa (optional).
  • Sour Cream (optional).
  • Avocado (optional).
  • Your favorite seasonings (see Notes).

HOW TO

  1. Brown beef in skillet. Drain the fat and add your seasonings. Set aside.
  2. On a plate, spread about 1/2 to 1 cup of rice. Top with seasoned beef.
  3. Add your  favorite taco toppings.
  4. Enjoy!… you thought it was going to be harder than this? Sorry to disappoint you ~_^

NOTES:

  • I grew up in Mexico. I never heard about a “taco seasoning” until I came to the US. If you want to use a package of it, go right ahead. I usually go with salt and pepper, plus whatever strikes my fancy at the moment (though I admit to having used the red package from time to time when I’m short on time, always low sodium varieties and then add some extra spice).
  • Fish or chicken can be used instead of beef.
  • It is traditionally eaten with a spoon. I like to layer it out on a big ramen bowl, mix it up and dig in.
  • In some Japanese varieties, you can add a fried egg on top.